Star Wars The High Republic: Midnight Horizon Thoughts
Daniel José Older closes out the Phase One novels with some of his High Republic Adventures characters, hard truths, and a little hope.
I prolonged reading Midnight Horizon as long as I could for two reasons. First, it is the last thing I had to read in Phase One, and I did not want the experience to end. I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this past year of new Star Wars stories and reading about The High Republic era. Second, while I loved most of the content, I have not warmed to the YA novels as much as the adult and middle-grade entries.
But I am so happy to close out Phase One with Daniel José Older’s Midnight Horizon. It is top-tier Star Wars in character study and somehow finds the perfect balance of portraying the joy and caution of attachment within the Jedi Order.
** Spoilers for Midnight Horizon and The High Republic Phase One **
Like many stories within The High Republic, Midnight Horizon begins with a death. In Coronet City on Corellia, a Grindalid male operative named Prybolt is led into a trap and murdered by the Nihil Sabata Krill. Grindalids, worm-like species that live in an intricate tunnel system on Corellia, cannot touch the sunlight because they will shrivel and die. So, Sabata gravely wounds him and removes his protective suit, gleefully watching as he wastes away.
The client Prybolt was protecting, Nomar Tralmat also disappears. All this is bad news for Alys “Crash” Ongwa, head of the Supreme Coronet City Diplomat Protection, whose company was tasked with protecting the Father of Finances. After learning about Prybolt’s disappearance and being threatened by the Grindalad matriarch Mother Fastidima, who blames her for his presumed death, Crash has limited time to figure out what happened.
Meanwhile, Jedi and Padawans onboard Starlight, including Ram Jomaram, Reath Silas, Cohmac Vitus, Kantam Sy, and Lula Talisola are still fighting the Nihil in the Outer Rim. One of the Nihil cells they are trying to neutralize includes Zeen’s former friend Krix Kamarat, who has led many raids on Jedi Temples.
When they get a message from Minister Fendirfal about possible Nihil activity on Corellia, many are in disbelief. The Nihil do not operate in Core Worlds. But the Jedi have consistently underestimated the Nihil, so they still agree to investigate. While Lula and Zeen get a lead and pursue Krix, the rest head to Corellia.
On Gus Talon, a Corellian moon, an attack at a student protest redirects Corellian Jedi and security forces, leaving Corellia more vulnerable. Ram and Reath help Crash by going undercover while Kantam and Cohmac speak to Minister Fendirfal and follow Republic leads.
The realization almost comes too late for everyone that the Nihil are not only on Corellia but have been building alliances with Corellian institutions. Nomar Tralmat is not dead, and he is a Nihil operative and has been working with Sabata (we see this in The High Republic Adventures #11). Tralmat also worked out a deal with the Grindalads who are unaware of his role in Prybolt’s death.
The ultimate target for the Nihil is the Corellian shipyards. The Nihil planned to take a fleet of Corellian ships to go to Eiram, where Starlight is crashing, to attack rescue teams who have come to help. The Jedi and Corellian citizens (who have shown up to help) try to stop the Nihil at all costs from accessing any Corellian ships. This showdown in the Corellian shipyards is one of the most thrilling final acts of a Star Wars novel. The Battle on Corellia is something I want to see in live-action and hope to see fully realized with all the bells and whistles of Star Wars final acts. We do not know the end game of most of these characters, so there is fear for everyone involved, even the background characters and Older hits every beat.
One character we know that makes it out of this era is Master Yoda, who arrives right on time to save the day and put fear back into the Nihil. Where he has been with Elder Tromak for the past few years remains a mystery for now. Unfortunately, they cannot save Starlight, and all the Jedi feel the weight of its destruction.
Reath, whose connection to the Force has grown significantly since Into the Dark, is knighted in a touching ceremony. The emotions continue to build with Master Cohmac. Overwhelmed by grief for the loss of Orla Jareni and many others, he walks away from the Order. Ram feels reinvigorated to continue fighting while Zeen vows to find Lula, feeling in her heart that she is still alive. And Yoda, who we learn orders the Jedi to regroup to Coruscant, hints that he may have a way forward for the Jedi by heading into the past.
Every POV is essential in this novel, and every POV goes through a complete arc. Part of the criticism, specifically of the YA novels, has been the slow first and second acts that accelerate too quickly once you hit the third act. Midnight Horizon also takes its time getting to an explosive third act, but Older pays off most of those story beats planted throughout the novel. Kantam’s story, while being a great window into his journey leaving and returning to the Jedi Order, also ends up playing into Cohmac’s decision. The early scenes with Lula and Zeen are essential to Zeen’s arc struggling to decide whether to detach herself from Lula to her commitment to the Jedi in any way they will have her. Even the floating exercise that Reath and Ram are practicing early in the first act comes back when Ram saves Reath after they prevent the final ship from jumping to hyperspace.
And it all begins with Prybolt as the catalyst. We learn more about the Grindalad family structure in the prologue through Prybolt’s POV than their live-action appearance in Solo: A Star Wars Story. It is jarring to be in the POV of someone who is dying but being in Prybolt’s head as he is slowly fading is particularly effective because his importance to the characters we are about to meet is so clearly defined.
Midnight Horizon also expands on using the Force as a metaphor, specifically for Zeen keeping her Force abilities a secret from the Elders of the Path community. Older includes a memory in which Zeen recalls using her Force abilities to sense a deadly storm on her homeworld Trymant IV.
“Zeen didn’t feel like a demon, but the Elders said all it took was using the Force once, and she didn’t know if what she felt inside counted as using it or not. The worst part was, she could never ask, because what if it was? Then she’d be expelled from the only family she’d ever known, and she’d never see Krix again. Plus he and all the others would probably hate her. And maybe they’d be right to. Who wouldn’t hate a demon?”
Daniel José Older. Star Wars The High Republic: Midnight Horizon. Disney Lucasfilm Press
In past Star Wars stories, characters keeping their Force ability a secret was tied to the fear of being killed. This is mainly because Force-sensitive beings find themselves in an Imperial or First Order-occupied galaxy.
With Zeen, it is the fear of being ostracized from a community that has deemed her abilities as “demonic.” The queer subtext is strong here and recontextualizes the Force in a new and exciting way.
But Midnight Horizon also has some of the most brutal depictions of violence. The description of Dizcaro’s dead body is horrific, and you can feel its effect on Crash. The fate of Nomar Tralmat at the hands of Mother Fastidima is also horrific. I doubt when he was celebrating Starlight’s destruction, he figured that he would get eaten alive by a bunch of Grindalads later that evening (I did warn you this was a spoiler review).
If I could only choose one novel to get a live-action treatment, Midnight Horizon might be at the top next to Light of the Jedi just for the third act.
Midnight Horizon melds together Daniel José Older’s characters from his The High Republic Adventures and YA regulars Cohmac and Reath Silas.
Let’s start with the Padawans and work our way up. Ram Jamoran is concerned not because he feels fear or anger against the Nihil, but because he simply does not feel anything, including happiness when the Jedi succeeds in rescuing people. Whether this has anything to do with the presence of the Nameless is not clarified, but it is still a sharp contrast to Ram’s character when we first met him in Race to Crashpoint Tower. It could be a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and that would make sense. Experiencing this many traumatic moments is abnormal for anyone, let alone a child. And Ram IS a child.
But Ram, to his credit, does not keep this to himself and confides in both Master Kunpar and Reath (unlike Cohmac, who we’ll get to later). He is still shy but slowly comes out of his shell with the help of Zeen and Reath. He has an amazing hero moment that utilizes his Force skills even more than Race to Crashpoint Tower. By the end, Ram is more assured in the Force and seems like he is also on his way toward being knighted.
Zeen Mrala is caught in an unusual limbo that we have never seen before in Star Wars canon. She is not a Padawan but is Force-sensitive and goes on missions with the Jedi. Her existence would not be possible in the Jedi Order we meet in the Prequel era as the Order felt that Anakin was too old to be taken in as a Padawan. Zeen is also battling her growing love for Lula and is concerned that she will hinder Lula’s ambitions. She tries to separate herself from the problem and put as much distance between them, which leads her to Corellia. In the end, Zeen refuses to believe that Lula is one of the fallen on Starlight and resolves to find her. How Zeen will fit into the Order moving forward is one of the more interesting developments from the younger High Republic characters.
Crash feels burdened not just with protecting her clients, but also with the safety of her crew. The weight of Prybolt missing, presumed dead, keeps pushing her into more secrecy. She hides details from her team, the Jedi, and even one of her closest friends, Svi’no. For most of the novel, she believes her business rival, Dizcaro, is somehow involved. When she learns that it was her client, Nomar Tralmat, who Prybolt was protecting, she is furious. Corellia has issues but seeing the Nihil exploit the corruption on Corellia to attack other parts of the galaxy cause Crash to shift her focus. We leave her as a new Corellian Resistance fighter who will try and keep corrupt figures out of power.
Reath Silas has been the most prominent protagonist in all the YA novels thus far. Claudia Gray introduced him in Into the Dark, where his connection to the Force was suggested not to be as strong as other Jedi Padawans. He was also hesitant to use his lightsaber and reluctantly cut off a man’s arm in defense.
In Midnight Horizon, Reath battles the Nihil, understanding that it is the only path. They have left the Jedi no choice. At the beginning of the novel, Reath is almost the opposite of Ram, he feels everything and is still wondering where he fits into the galaxy. Not Coruscant, where he once longed to stay forever in the Jedi Temple. Not Starlight, his home for so long which is gone. And yet, Reath comes out on the other end a Jedi Knight. His Master Cohmac asks him if he is ready and, while he still feels he has a lot to learn, Yoda assures him that learning how little you know is the hardest lesson to learn. Reath Silas rises to be a Jedi Knight in a bittersweet ceremony, where he gains a new title but loses his Master.
While we do not get much of Lula, we feel her importance through Zeen and her Master Kantam. We relive their journey in the Jedi Order under Master Yoda, who is prepared to let Kantam go so they can experience life outside of the Order. What drives Kantam’s uncertainty of whether they want to become a Jedi Knight is the same as his Padawan Lula…they fall in love. Kantam meets a circus performer, Aytar, and decides to leave the Order to explore these feelings with the young man. It does not work out, but that is OK with Kantam. They stay with the circus for a while, then move on to other jobs until they end up on Naboo. We see the referenced moment in The High Republic Adventures when Kantam saves the orphan Lula’s life from a kolvor and discovers Lula’s Force sensitivity when she saves another little boy. That pure instinct to do good reinvigorates Kantam, and he chooses Lula. They bring her to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and Yoda. Like the Wayseeker, Orla, the Force guides him to where he needs to be: To Lula and back to the Order. It is a beautiful love story between a Jedi and their Padawan and brings another level of heartbreak that Kantam has to be prepared to let her go. While Lula is not in Midnight Horizon for long, her character is further defined in the memory of those closest to her.
Kantam, Lula, Zeen, and Crash are all Queer characters allowed to just be in this universe. Older does a great job of weaving Kantam’s pronouns of they/their so as not to confuse the action happening around them in the final act.
The only character that we do not spend enough time with is Cohmac. When he reveals his decision to leave the Jedi Order, at first it felt like it came out of nowhere. However, looking back through previous novels, there are hints that he has become disenfranchised within the Order. In Midnight Horizon, Cohmac recognizes the weakness of the Order and, although it is not made clear, might blame them for the fall of Starlight. Unlike Ram, Cohmac keeps these thoughts to himself. Having lost his strongest connection in Orla he feels there is nothing left for him within the Order.
I mentioned in my review for The Fallen Star that it was disappointing that Orla was killed off because the concept of a Wayseeker was so unique to Star Wars. Cohmac could become a Wayseeker eventually, but he has chosen to completely sever himself from the Jedi, leaving his lightsaber with his former Padawan.
Finally, a character that looms large over the novel and makes an appearance in true heroic fashion is Master Yoda. His absence is felt with all the Jedi, but especially in Midnight Horizon as he was Kantam’s Master. Yoda gives Kantam the freedom to figure things out, hoping that they return but accepting the possibility that they may not. Yoda had to be removed from most of The High Republic Phase One because he is too formidable an opponent for the Nihil. And now he is back to give some answers.
Corellia is the Gotham City of Star Wars, filled with corruption and shady politicians, but the people also understand their world and are insular, not trusting outsiders. We learn more about the structure, including the different City Fathers that come from old money and wield immense power: Father of Finances, Father of Chemicals, and the Father of Metals. Corellia is an industrial world and therefore ruled by industry titans.
We get the first appearance of Shug Drabor, Ram’s hero and the Chief Engineer of the Halcyon, the ship that you can stay on at Galaxy’s Edge in Walt Disney World. The Halcyon hype in the novel is minimal, and the Anzellan engineer gets something to do during the Battle, so he does not feel out of place.
Kolvor, the predatory bird that attacks Lula, is a new creature introduced in this novel and seems like an absolute terror of a species. I imagine a giant hawk-like creature that targets children and drops them like rodents from the sky before picking them up. And having this species be native to Naboo makes the world a little more dangerous than previously thought.
We have an origin story for “Wizard.” Turns out, it was Ram’s fault all along.
Midnight Horizon also gives us Older’s modern colloquialisms. Yes, the first third of this novel has a lot of silly moments, particularly around Ram. But would you rather have a novel that is consistently dark and depressing? Every The High Republic novel, specifically YA and adult, has been emotionally exhausting in the amount of tragedy and death. Moments of levity are needed to balance the darker moments. And even though things get real serious in Midnight Horizon, there is still joy to be found. Against all the odds, the last novel of The High Republic ends with hope.
Originally published at http://creditsandcanon.com on March 14, 2022.